Coul Links is a unique and internationally important wildlife site under threat from a golf course proposal. RSPB Scotland is part of a coalition of environmental experts, including Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Marine Conservation Society, who have been working together to help save the site.

We are currently waiting on a decision by Scottish Ministers to see if they will ‘call in’ the application. Kate Bellew our Senior Conservation Planner highlights the significance of this decision and why we have appealed to an international body for urgent help. 

Coul Links – Conservation partners appeal to international body for rescue mission


Time is running out for Coul Links. We are expecting a decision any day from Scottish Ministers on whether they will ‘call-in’ the application and allow for detailed scrutiny of the proposals. Significantly, the golf course currently proposed at Coul Links would destroy part of a Ramsar site, which is an internationally important wetland habitat.

In a previous blog, we highlighted the importance of wetland habitats and also our international commitments for their conservation under the ‘Ramsar Convention’. Estimates show that 64 % of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. International co-operation is vital if we are to save one of the world’s most important natural resources.

The Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet, the Ramsar site within which Coul Links sits, was designated in 1997. Its habitats are incredibly diverse and include a range of different dune habitats. The wetland habitats that would be impacted by the golf course proposals include the dune slacks which are areas that flood during the winter and provide an important refuge and feeding area to birds such as teal and wigeon. The unique plant species which currently thrive here are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality. This habitat is rare in Scotland and is under significant threat across Europe.

At Coul Links, 13 out of 18 of the proposed golf greens would be located within the Ramsar site. The resulting loss and damage to this irreplaceable habitat is so substantial that the statutory advisors for nature conservation, Scottish Natural Heritage, have objected to the proposals. The proposals have also triggered alarm bells at the international level. The IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas recently expressed significant concerns about the proposals, emphasising Scotland’s international responsibilities for protecting our environment.

The importance of Ramsar sites should not be underestimated. Just this week, Doga, one of our BirdLife Partners, announced a major conservation victory to save the Gediz Delta Ramsar Site in Turkey. The courts concluded the proposed project would have irreversible and major negative impacts on this unique wetland.

Support and help to protect Ramsar sites is also available through Ramsar Advisory Missions. This usually takes the form of a visit to the site by a global team of experts who provide advice to address any threats to the ‘ecological character’ of the Ramsar site. In the past, such missions have been instigated for a range of different reasons, including the pressures brought about by major development projects such as dam construction, mining operations and golf courses, as well as changes in land use and recreational pressures.

The risk to the Ramsar site at Coul Links will inform discussions at the Ramsar Convention’s 13th Conference of the Parties in October this year. However, this may be too late. Scottish Ministers are due to make a decision on whether to ‘call in’ the application any day. They were originally due to decide by 1st August – but they extended this period by 28 days and have now had a further two weeks of this already.

It is incredibly worrying that Scottish Ministers have not taken action by now despite clear advice from their statutory advisors Scottish Natural Heritage that there would be adverse impacts to the Ramsar site. Given the imminent threat at Coul Links, our conservation partners have urged a Ramsar Advisory Mission to be instigated immediately to investigate this damaging proposal and ensure significant and irreversible damage to the site is avoided. See below for a copy of our letter.

Over 12,000 people have already called on Scottish Ministers to save Coul Links. You can add your voice here